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Field conditioning of sexual arousal in humans Heather Hoffmann, Katie Peterson & Hana Garner Knox College Background Only a narrow range of stimuli can.

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Presentation on theme: "Field conditioning of sexual arousal in humans Heather Hoffmann, Katie Peterson & Hana Garner Knox College Background Only a narrow range of stimuli can."— Presentation transcript:

1 Field conditioning of sexual arousal in humans Heather Hoffmann, Katie Peterson & Hana Garner Knox College Background Only a narrow range of stimuli can be regarded as primarily or “inherently” sexual. Stimuli typically acquire sexually arousing properties through experience. It is commonly assumed that classical conditioning plays a role in what we find sexually arousing, and indeed numerous experimental studies have demonstrated the impact this type of learning has on a wide range of sexual behaviors across a variety of species (cf., Akins, 2004; Domjan & Akins, 2010, Pfaus, Kippin & Centeno, 2001). However, there is still relatively little empirical evidence of sexual conditioning from studies using humans. Current problem Not only are there fewer human sexual conditioning studies, human conditioned responding seems less robust compared with other animals. Perhaps the artificiality of the experimental parameters and/or of the laboratory environment may hinder the learning and/or expression of sexual conditioning. The present study used a field conditioning procedure in which precise control over conditioning procedures was exchanged for more naturalistic conditioning parameters. Specifically, the design afforded a more appropriate context for sexual arousal (participant’s residence), a conditioned stimulus (CS) that was more closely tied to sexual responding (presented on their sexual partner as well as ambiently in the room), more natural temporal parameters (longer intertrial intervals), and a stronger, more natural/effective US (partnered sexual interaction). Most human sexual conditioning studies rely on genital responding as the conditioned response (CR). However, since we now recognize that, in addition to preparing organisms for interaction with biologically significant cues or events (signal or expectancy learning), classical conditioning can alter the preference for stimuli associated with such cues or events (evaluative conditioning), we also included a measure of affective preference. We considered this particularly appropriate for the present study since evaluative or affective learning (i.e., changes in valence of stimuli) may be stronger in real world settings (Baeyens, Wrzesniewski, De Houwer, & Eelen, 1996; Öhman & Mineka, 200; Rozin, Wrzesniewski, & Byrnes, 1998). Hypothesis Compared to controls, men who experienced a novel, neutrally preferred scent paired with sexual interaction on three occasions would show increased genital responding to and increased preference for the olfactory CS. Participants Fourteen heterosexual couples (college undergraduates) with the male as the target subject were randomly assigned to the experimental (n = 7) or the control (n = 7) group. Couples were paid $70 for their participation. Conditioned Stimuli : the scent of basil and geranium essential oils Unconditioned Stimulus : partnered sexual interaction (oral sex/ intercourse) § Implications Although it was and perhaps still is commonly assumed that classical conditioning plays a role what we find sexually arousing, particularly in cases of deviant arousal patterns, a strict learning interpretation of the development of sexual preferences has fallen out of favor. Yet with modern developments in learning theory (e.g., expectancy learning, Rescorla, 1988; affective learning, De Houwer, Thomas, & Baeyens, 2001; Behavioral Systems Theory, Timberlake, 2001) it seems appropriate to renew the investigation of contributions and limitations of conditioning processes to explaining how cues acquire erotic meaning. Such research may help us to better understanding the impact that erotic stimuli have on sexual arousal and subsequent behavior, potentially allowing us to alter such responses to improve sexual functioning. Such information could have direct application to managing sexual risk taking, sexual compulsion, and paraphilic (e.g., fetishistic) behavior. References Akins, C. K. (2004). The role of Pavlovian conditioning in sexual behavior: A comparative analysis of human and nonhuman animals. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 17, 241-262 Baeyens, F., Wrzesniewski, A., De Houwer, J., & Eelen, P. (1996). Toilet rooms, body massages, and smells: Two field studies on human evaluative odor conditioning. Current Psychology, 15, 77-96. De Houwer, J., Thomas, S., & Baeyens, F. (2001). Associative learning of likes and dislikes: A review of 25 years of research on human evaluative conditioning. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 853-869. Domjan, M. & Akins, C. K. (2010) Applications of Pavlovian conditioning to sexual behavior and reproduction. In Schachtman, T.R., & Reilly, S. (Eds.), Associative Learning and Conditioning Theory: Human and Non-Human Applications. Oxford University Press. Hoffmann, H. (2010). Hot and bothered: Classical conditioning of sexual incentives in humans. In Schachtman, T.R., & Reilly, S. (Eds.), Associative Learning and Conditioning Theory: Human and Non-Human Applications. Oxford University Press. Öhman, A., & Mineka, S. (2001). Fears, phobias, and preparedness: Toward an evolved module of fear and fear learning. Psychological Review, 108, 483-522. Pfaus, J. G., Kippin, T. E., & Centeno, S. (2001). Conditioning and sexual behavior: A review. Hormones and Behavior, 40, 291-321. Rescorla, R.A. (1988) Pavlovian conditioning: It's not what you think it is. American Psychologist, 43, 151-160. Rozin, P., Wrzesniewski, A., & Byrnes, D. (1998). The elusiveness of evaluative conditioning. Learning and Motivation, 29, 397-415. Timberlake, W. (2001). Motivational modes in behavior systems. In R. R. Mowrer & S. B. Klein (Eds.) Handbook of contemporary learning theories (pp. 155-209). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. Support Funding from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and Knox College are acknowledged and appreciated Contact Heather Hoffmann hhoffman@knox.edu. Results Genital responding: As can be seen in Figure 1 we observed a significant increase in genital responding to the CS+ in the experimental relative to the control group, t(12) = 2.99, p =.01. Affective preference: As can be seen in Figure 2, after conditioning odor pleasantness increased in the control group and it increased for the CS+ in experimental men. However, the experimental group (relative to controls) showed a trend for a significant decrease in preference for the CS- odor, t(12) = -1.48, p = 0.16. Discussion The present study provides another demonstration of conditioned sexual arousal in men, specifically an instance of such learning in a real world setting. However conditioned genital responses (CRs) were not stronger than those obtained during laboratory conditioning. One reason for the relatively weak learning may be that the participants, although instructed to contact the experimenter as soon as they finished the study, did not return to the lab for testing until several days (up to 17) after completion. Although there was no correlation between retention interval and strength of the CR, there is a fair amount of individual difference in conditionability (cf. Hoffmann, 2010) and the number of participants was low. Further differences in context and odor presentation between conditioning and testing could have contributed to the weak CRs. It is not surprising that the men would show an increase in preference for an odor that was paired with their partner, even if it wasn’t paired with sexual activity with their partner. Although we did not confirm that the CS- became a conditioned inhibitor, experimental men may have learned that this odor predicted that sexual interaction with their partner would not occur. Can You Make Her Orgasm on Demand? …That's not to say there can't be conditioning with regard to sex. Michael Domjan did amazing things with domesticated quail over at the University of Texas at Austin's Sexual Learning Laboratory. "We have shown that an artificial stimulus that is initially totally unrelated to sexual activity can become associated with copulation through a Pavlovian conditioning process." If all goes well, he says, "these domesticated quail will, in fact, copulate with an artificial object.” Cartoon: John Cuneo Article: Stacey Grenrock Woods Esquire Magazine April 3, 2009 Baseline (in lab) 15 sec olfactometer-based presentations (0.05 ml) of basil and geranium (3 of each) 1 min ISI Conditioning (in “field”; over 2 weeks) Experimental One odor (CS+) – sexual interaction (3 pairings) Other odor (CS-) – non-sexual interaction (3 pairings) (e.g., studying, watching films/TV, playing games) Control Both odors with non-sexual interaction (3 pairings of each) Sexual interaction (without odor; 3 times) Odors on partner’s t-shirt (0.05 ml) and in aroma fan (0.05 ml) Testing (in lab) Same as baseline (stimulus order changed) Measures Genital arousal (electromechanical strain gauge) Odor pleasantness (14 cm visual analog scale) Procedur e


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